On the 10th and 11th of June, the staff of the R-SOS Unit from the Lebanese University, the University of Duhok and the Lebanese International University participated in a study visit in Italy to discuss the integration of Refugees in the European society, and Italy in particular.

In the first day of the visit, the participants from Iraq (Kurdistan region) and Lebanon had the opportunity to meet with organizations working at the forefront of the refugee crisis in Italy, namely SPRAR (The Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) and IOM (International Organization for Migration) and thoroughly discussed the dual protection system in Italy with its advantages and limitations in supporting refugees.

Following the screening of some movie segments showcasing cultural differences, participants explored and shared different accounts of cultural shock with an Italian foundation called “InterCammini” that provides training tools for cultural shock analysis. In the same vein, the Hello Office from the Sapienza University in Rome brought into light the struggles of students with cultural shock and integration in university life but also in society. This office operates in a similar fashion to the R-SOS Unit, as it ensures a smooth transition of students in their academic and social lives while supporting them in choosing their major, finding their faculties and exploring the opportunities the university and the city have yet to offer. Since education is crucial to integration, the Director of the DAAD (German Academic Service), introduced to participants the support programmes of DAAD for students and researchers based in Italy.

On a different note, the intervention of Nicola Paravati, UNINETTUNO (International Telematic University) sparked a heated debate among participants. UNINETTUNO as described by Nicola Paravati is an online University, accredited by the Italian government, granting degrees in scientific and humanitarian fields, with a special track for refugees.  However, the participants argued that online degrees are not recognized in the Arab world for the time being, especially in Syria and further inquired on the online training and academic lectures modalities.

On a lighter note, the screening of the movie “When You Can’t Go Back” of Leonardo Ciniero Lombroso swept the room with feelings of hope and optimism, intercepted with undertones of nostalgia, belonging and sadness. The movie narrates the real story of Obaida, a Syrian refugee, who after receiving his acceptance letter from the Sapienza University, travelled to Italy to start a new life. However, the more success Obaida garners in his new life, the more detached he feels from his family and his routes. Obaida feels stuck as he’s moving forward in his life but “can’t go back” and turn back the hands of time. This movie serves as an inspiration for refugee students to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals while highlighting the price of success for Syrian refugees with particular regard to detachment from country and family.

On the second day of the visit, participants were introduced to the Integration Programme of UNHCR in Italy and the services they provide to refugees who arrive to Italy. The services include shelter, psychosocial support, legal support and life skills training. This holistic support of UNHCR ensures a smooth transition of refugees in their new lives. More recently UNHCR in Italy developed what is known as the “Juma Map”– an online map that refugees could use to identify services they need the most (where to sleep, where to find legal assistance, where to find health care, where to find psycho-social assistance, where to find a language school).

Last but not least, Silvia Turati from FCEI (Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy), introduced the “Mediterranean Hope” programme that offers protection to refugees in need, allowing them to obtain an entry visa to Italy and Europe. The cooperation with FCEI could be of major help for students of the R-SOS Unit who are in need of humanitarian protection, therefore a MoU with FCEI could be a great start towards a successful collaboration.

Nisrine Moussaileb – Lebanese University – R-SOS office